“One of the things we wanted to defend in this project was the idea of an openness to the city and of not wanting disability to be treated as something that needs hiding away,” says Adrien Lambert, co-founding partner, with Etienne Lénack, of Paris-based architecture studio Lambert Lénack. He’s talking about the Paul Meurice Home and Day Centre for Disabled Adults, known officially as the Établissement d’accueil non médicalisé Saint-Joseph. Recently completed in a dense and fast-growing district in the 20th arrondissement, it serves young individuals with intellectual and physical challenges who can function and work to some degree but require medical supervision. As designed by Lambert Lénack, however, Paul Meurice eschews the introversion, rambling institutional identity and other tropes of conventional care homes. Instead, it’s a gracefully stepped building that prioritizes — and successfully achieves — transparency, domesticity and a multiplicity of spaces.
Commissioned by Paris Habitat and run by the not-for-profit Société Philanthropique, the 2,990-square-metre facility houses 36 residents on its four upper levels (men and women each have two floors and a common area apiece) and can host about 30 day guests on the bottom two. A shared garden, floor-to-ceiling glazing on the ground level and generous windows in the domestic units are also among the amenities. On three of the floors, the architects (the project lead was Pierre Charny-Brunet) included “open-air rooms” that are exposed to the elements but enclosed, giving residents and visitors safe access to the outdoors. “We also created a large entrance hall, which leads from the street to the garden, and a terrace on the roof,” says Lambert, who adds that these “were not in the original brief, but arose after discussions with residents and clients.”
Programmatically, the home also differs from other, typically low-rise care homes in another important way: It required an elevator for use by residents. The architects designed the lift to be very large so that it wouldn’t feel claustrophobic (it can fit up to 15 people) and created expansive communal living areas where it opens on each floor (inviting residents and visitors to gather or rest there). “We also made sure that the corridors on each floor curve around, creating a promenade effect instead of ending abruptly, which can be a source of anxiety for [those with] some disabilities,” says Lambert.
So far all signs indicate that the design is having a positive impact. Initially, the Société Philanthropique was concerned that the ample windows might induce vertigo, but this has not been the case. The residents are happy about the amount of light that pours in, about being able to see the city around them, and with the diversity of areas they can access. “In the building they were in before,” explains Lambert, “they had one shared space and the rest was just functional corridors between rooms. Now they can spend time on the different floors, chat in front of the lift, go to their communal living rooms or go up to the roof garden. And the spaces are quieter because people are more spread out.”
Externally, the project is noteworthy for its nuance and attention to detail. The architects chose a soft grey brick so that it would meld with the colour palette and what is a common material choice in the area. Instead of making the building a vertical box, they chose to stack each floor atop the next as if it were an independent entity, creating setbacks that are particularly pronounced on the south side to allow southwest sunlight through to the courtyard garden and housing west of the site. The cantilever on the first floor provides shelter for deliveries, but is also an “abstract volume” that balances out the stepped design and necessarily tapered top floors (Paris regulations dating from the Haussmann era require rooftops to step back at 45 degrees in order to direct as much sunlight as possible into the streets below). On close inspection, each floor also features one of two different brick patterns, which lend a gentle alternating rhythm to the exterior, too.
It’s subtle touches like these, combined with an empathetic and holistic approach to the design, that make this project quietly special and even pioneering.
From the elegant stepped architecture to the thoughtfully configured interiors, Lambert Lénack’s facility for young adults with disabilities in Paris forgoes the trappings (and traps) of traditional care homes.